I'm a big NHL fan from Pittsburgh originally, and I like what JP has done with some divisions but not others.
Columbus really hasn't developed any rivalries yet, but I think they form a a nice cluster with PIT, BUF, and TOR. You can drive from Columbus to PIT in 2 hours, BUF in 3.
I would keep DET in the Central with STL and CHI. MIN Wild have complained about their travel and the North Stars used to be part of that cluster (the old Chuck Norris Division).
So if we go to 32 I like:
QUE*, MTL, OTT, BOS
TOR, BUF, PIT, CBJ
NYR, NYI, NJD, PHL
WSH, CAR, TB, ATL or FLA
MIN, DET, CHI, STL
NASH, DAL, HOU*, COL
ANA, LA, SJ, PHX
EDM, CAL, VAN, SEA*
Basically relocate either Atlanta or Florida, and add 2 expansion teams - new / relocated teams to Quebec, Houston, and Seattle
I like Houston for their TV market, Quebec for huge local support, and Seattle forms a nice tight geogrphic cluster with VAN and the 2 Alberta teams.
Honestly I don't have a feel for whether Seattle is a hockey town. Winnepeg would certainly draw to the extent possible
(especially with hockey being the only game in town, but it's just SO SMALL vs. about 4 million in Seattle)
I agree with virtually all of this. However, Detroit has been clamoring to be in the Eastern conference for decades now, and it's widely believed they "have dibs" if anyone goes from West to East. As you said, it's still CBJ's infancy and as the "new guys" they wouldn't pass DET on the waiting list to move East.
If anything, I think you'd see Pittsburgh go West before Columbus goes east. (Although, the Crosby/Ovechkin marketing now makes that unlikely for the next 5-7 years.
PHX and ATL are your two most likely relocation candidates.... but personally, I think that the team that REALLY needs to move is Florida.
And of course, I also think the league would be better served adopting a MLB-style alignment. In MLB and NFL, the most popular games are division rivals and local rivals. For example, the Dodgers biggest draws are San Francisco, San Diego.... and the Angels. The Mets sellouts are Philly and Atlanta... and the Yankees. Cubs: Cardinals, Brewers and White Sox. You get the idea.
In baseball, they play SELECT interleague opponents and ignore the rest; and have divisional rivalries with teams in the same time zone that are further apart. They don't play EVERYONE in interleague because they limit the number of games to make interleague "special."
The NHL on the other hand, has their local rivals and division rivals as the SAME TEAMS. There's 24 division games, and teams pretty much have 0, 1, or 2 other "rivals" they play outside of the division. PIT/WAS, WAS/PHI, NYR/BOS, DET/TOR, CBJ/PIT, MIN/CHI, and that's pretty much it.
The NHL doesn't have the scheduling issues MLB does where MLB has to limit interleague play six total series, and two vs your marquee rival.
They could set up divisions that divide each Conference into two divisions of eastern teams and a West division. They could have Campbell East play Wales East, and Campbell East never play Wales West or Wales Central.
For example, Campbell East: NYI, PHI, WAS, ATL, TB. Campbell West: NYR, NJ, PIT, CAR, FLA
Familiarity breeds contempt. The Mets and Braves had a heated rivalry based on the Mets finishing second to ATL in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001 with late-season "heart ripped out" series' in ATL each year (specifically the 1998 series in which Cox threw a 20-game winner and 16-game winner IN RELIEF specifically to keep the Mets from getting the wild card; and the 2001 post-9/11 comeback being thwarted by Jordan's grand slam), plus the 1999 NLCS and John Rocker; Piazza addressing Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. by his legal first name, and the Mets fans chanting Larry every chance they get; Larry naming his son "Shea," etc.
You put ATL in the Campbell East and when they fight for playoff spots, you'll have rivalries form. Now instead of 24 marquee games of divisional/regional rivals, you have 36.